Age UK recently revealed that 1.2 million older people in England are chronically lonely, having felt isolated for many years. For some of them, shopping is a lifeline, and gives them a reason to get out of the house, meet up with friends or chat with staff. In January 2017, Age UK revealed the importance of retailers, including local businesses and shops, with almost 600,000 older people saying they would have no one to talk to if they didn’t visit these places regularly. For example, more than a million over-60s visit a supermarket every day and a further 5.3 million go at least two to three times per week. In England alone, 1.6 million people visit a pharmacy each day, with many of them in the older age group. So how can community pharmacies provide their older and disabled customers with increased help, advice and support?
In February 2017, a report by Age UK looked at how businesses in general could be more agefriendly, as many over-65s believe they are being overlooked as customers. Older households spend an estimated total of £145 billion per year on goods and services, but four in 10 of those over 65 believe businesses have little interest in their consumer needs. The charity’s Age-Friendly Business report is aimed mainly at supermarkets and other shops, but some of the recommendations given from the perspective of older people could also apply to community pharmacies, both independents and multiples, although some are likely to be already met. It is described as being a ‘wake-up call’ to businesses.
The recommendations include:
Seating: have comfortable chairs available and train staff to offer chairs if they are required
Disabled access: shops should make reasonable adjustments to ensure entrances and aisles are wide enough for people visiting thepharmacy in a wheelchair or with walking aids
Telephone: ensure everyone who answers the phone speaks clearly, especially if the customer is hard of hearing
Easy navigation: design a safe and easy-tonavigate environment and help older people find what they need as required. A particularly common challenge can be reaching for items on high or low shelves. Remember that, when shops change the position of goods on shelf this can cause confusion, especially for customers with dementia or visual problems
Online: Ensure websites are well-designed and user-friendly for everyone
Service: many older people place a high value on social interactions with shop staff. Polite, helpful and patient staff will encourage customers to come back. But don’t make assumptions about what they need, as older people are diverse in terms of interests, financial situation and physical and mental health. Train all staff to be Dementia Friends, to acknowledge the important role that pharmacies can play in supporting dementia sufferers in the community. Dementia Friend training is now one of the criteria for pharmacy Quality Payments in England.
Focus groups have shown that seats in stores, accessible toilets and staff politeness are key to a decent shopping experience for older people. In addition, a quarter of all those over 65 ranked parking as their number one priority. How far does your pharmacy go towards meeting the customer needs that are recommended by Age UK?
A number of recent studies have found that paracetamol is less effective for osteoarthritis than previously thought. Although current NICE guidelines for the management of osteoarthritis still recommend paracetamol as a first-line treatment, the NICE Guideline Development Group believes that this new research should be taken into account when routinely prescribing pain relief, until a new full review of treatments is published. This may leave healthcare professionals searching for alternative treatments to help manage their patients’ joint pain safely and effectively, such as other medicines or lifestyle interventions.
“Pharmacy staff need to match the type of pain to the most appropriate topical analgesic – hot, cold or topical NSAID – and make sure they remind people that maintaining gentle movement or exercise is beneficial,” says Jillian Watt, director of marketing/NPD at Mentholatum, which has produced a booklet called Pain Relief Without Pills.
Possible alternative products for joint pain include topical analgesics, dietary supplements (eg GOPO from rosehips) and essentialoil muscle rubs. Healthcare specialist and commercial director at Puressential, David Mitchell, says as many as eight out of 10 consumers may be interested in using a natural alternative. “We know that many older consumers are concerned about using too many medicines, particularly to relieve muscle and joint pain,” he says.
Reena Barai, SG Pharmacy, Sutton
“The majority of our queries are from older people. Sometimes a lack of mobility slowly creeps up on people and this can cause a lack of social life, because people can’t do what they’ve always done. They might not realise that there are things out there that can really help. Often people don’t like the idea of having to depend on a walking stick, but may be more interested if you suggest a folding walking stick that you can carry around and use when you feel the need, or a portable stool. Mobility products can be quite bulky, so we don’t stock a full range, but we do have a catalogue so people can order things. Exercises can also help – when you’ve got aching joints this is the last thing you want to do, but you need to do the right exercises to strengthen the muscles around the joints.”
Bina Patel, Kalson’s Chemist, Westcliff-on-Sea
“The majority of my customers are elderly, so this is a big one. We stock certain mobility aids, but focus more on the soft stuff that goes around mobility – things like stick handles, spoons, forks, bowls, and disability aids. With mobility it’s not just about ‘here is a gadget’, but actually this is what you need. That might be readjusting the height of a walking stick to improve posture and relieve pain – quite a simple thing and you wouldn’t necessarily think of it, but it can make such a difference. It’s important to make the shop accessible for anyone with mobility issues, and if they can’t get to the shop we take catalogues to them. I visit people as far as 10 miles away to measure them up and provide the aids. There’s actually a lot of money in it, and it’s great for customer satisfaction – for me it’s certainly a winner.”
Jiten Shingdia, RJ Berry Pharmacy, Portsmouth
“We have an ageing community in this area, but we don’t actually stock any mobility aids at all. It’s something we’ve considered, but we lack the space and have no room to extend the shop. We have a catalogue we can order from, but it really depends on the degree of the problem. If someone needs a wheelchair, for example, then we will signpost them to mobility stores around town. That’s the main service we provide: connecting people with other parties who can meet their mobility needs. Most people will speak to their GP first on this, but we do get some queries. The important thing is to get a good picture of what kind of mobility problem they have and, therefore, what kind of aid they need.”